More significantly, however, note how Huxley’s core ideas as expressed in “The Art of Seeing” are reflected again in this short parable: how intimately Ch’ing’s (outer) skills are linked to his (inner) perceptions, i.e. how definitively his (outer) status as a master craftsman is explained by his (inner) dedication to psychological and spiritual preparation.

The parable compresses time, of course, and purposely so: it distills a lifetime’s worth of inner work — of memories, experiences, dreams and decisions — down to the basic essentials of becoming; down to the core tasks/elements involved in changing the “being of the knower” so that there might be “a corresponding change in the nature and amount of knowing”.  It is, in other words, a parable about becoming pure in heart and humble in spirit, in the hopes of being able to see and to know – and thus to express – the world of the Supernatural, the Real, the Infinite, the Kingdom of Heaven.

Note how carefully Chuang Tzu outlines the tasks/elements and processes he deems necessary for this dramatic personal transformation to take place; they are familiar to anyone who has ever studied the masters of spiritual life, from whatever tradition east or west:

1) There is a one-pointed concentration of focus and intention: “I guard against any diminution of my essential powers,”

2) There is a period of intense inner and outer silence: “I first bring my mind into a state of absolute quiet”,

3) There is a profound shift in priorities, from those of the (outer) world to those of the (inner) spirit: “I become oblivious to any possible reward or gain…to any fame I might achieve”,

4) There is a deep humility and lack of ego: “unconscious of my limbs and physical frame…with no thought of you or the Court in my mind”, and

5) There is Time: “I enter some mountain forest, and I begin my search for a suitable tree.”

Only then — after he has changed himself, and thus expanded his capacity to see — does the artist-craftsman initiate the creative process as normally understood, i.e. the set of concrete physical actions that we tend to equate with skill.  Even then, however, Ch’ing downplays any personal role, any specific set of skills that he might possess.  In fact, there is only one reference to himself or to his talent, only one word used: “That tree already contains within it the form required, which I afterwards elaborate.”

As suggested earlier, the parable distills a lifetime of dedication into a week of intense preparation; the reader is not meant to assume that Ch’ing has always been chief carpenter, that he has always been a master.  And this picture of a life-long process fits well with the thoughts of a current golf architect, Ian Andrew.  In discussing the differences between, in his words, prodigies and masters, Andrew concludes that great architects are more like masters than prodigies: “The Master is equal to the prodigy in terms of talent; but their route to a successful expression of that talent is much, much longer.…They usually begin the journey without clarity, and much of the early work is setting the table for what is to come in the future.  They obtain clarity through exploration.  They learn, work, experiment, seek new ideas, create, assess, refine and so on, often for decades until through determination and inherent ability they find what they are looking for.  The main reason for this drawn out approach is they seek perfection.”

Andrew is a modern-day, working professional who uses language of a more direct and practical nature; but the story he tells of life-long personal development in pursuit of other-worldly perfection would have resonated both with Chuang Tzu and with Ch’ing, the chief carpenter who was once a student.

So too would the observations of another modern-day architect, Tom Doak.  An early and influential exponent of the minimalist movement that returned to the top of architecture’s value system a deep appreciation of the golfing possibilities inherent in the land in its natural state, Doak has often noted the primary importance of Time in the creative process – time to wander across the landscape, to ponder and reflect, to look and to look again and again at the
golf holes and potential routings that lie already present there in nature itself, waiting for human hands to simply hew away the rough excess so that others may one day see and enjoy them too.

In this context, it is important to note that Huxley also put his finger — albeit inadvertently — on a development that changed the face of American design for almost half a century, and that ushered in the post-World War II Dark Ages of golf course architecture that lasted until the advent of the modern minimalists. That development was mechanization, the use of heavy machinery.  While not a perfect analogy by any means, Huxley’s words are worth quoting at length, as they do offer a possible (if esoteric) explanation for that period of decline:

“From the foregoing extract from Chuang Tzu we see how essentially religious (and not merely professional) was the Taoist craftsman’s approach to his art.   Here we may remark in passing that mechanization is incompatible with inspiration.  The artisan could do and often did do a thoroughly bad job. But if, like Ch’ing the chief carpenter, he cared for his art and was ready to do what was necessary to make himself docile to inspiration, he could and sometimes did do
a job so good that it seemed ‘as though of supernatural execution’.      Among the many and enormous advantages of efficient automatic machinery is this: it is completely fool-proof.  But every gain has to be paid for.  The automatic machine is fool-proof; but just because it is fool-proof it is also grace-proof.

The man who tends such a machine is impervious to every form of aesthetic inspiration, whether of human or of genuinely spiritual origin.  ‘Industry without art is brutality’.  But actually Ruskin maligns the brutes. The industrious bird or insect is inspired, when it works, by the infallible animal  grace of instinct — by Tao as it manifests itself on the level immediately above the physiological.  The industrial worker at his fool-proof and grace-proof machine does his job in a man-made universe of punctual automata — a universe that lies entirely beyond the pale of Tao on any level, brutal, human or spiritual”.

As noted, the analogy is not perfect, but it does highlight the difference between the artisan and the industrial worker; between work/art produced by human hands (capable of being inspired) and that produced by the levelling thunder a dozen bulldozers (impervious to Tao).

It is not difficult to imagine what Tao — or lack of it — Huxley would have sensed in today’s blackberries and ipads and computer generated models; he was already out of place in the then-modern world 70 years ago.  (In his brief and failed tenure as a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1940s, he wrote a long, detailed treatment for a film version of “Alice in Wonderland”; Walt Disney complained that he could only understand every third word.)  And, as he did in the previous quote, Huxley often used a word that today is (and in his day was) rarely heard outside of church meetings or fundamentalist revivals: Grace.

Despite his worldly sophistication, his metaphysical daring and broad intellect, and his experiments with hallucinogenics, Huxley believed in Grace; like his more traditional and religiously dogmatic counterpart C.S. Lewis, he believed that spiritual, psychological and artistic gifts were continually being offered human beings from a source outside of themselves.

Granted, it is up to each individual to open themselves to these gifts, to change the being of the knower in order to expand that which could be known; but it is possible, Huxley believed, to see more, and to see more clearly, and to recognize/experience the presence of Grace — and, once experienced, to share it with others.

For this reason, it seems quite appropriate to end on that word, Grace.  Aldous Huxley uses it in reference to the experiences of chief carpenter Ch’ing — the craftsman, it should be stressed, who had mastered The Art of Seeing by faithfully preparing himself to embody the psychological (spiritual) phenomenon of perception.

It is true that, if you were so inclined, you could choose to end on another word — that is, Talent.  All talk and discussion about an architect’s ability to see golf courses where none yet exist could probably be summarized (and set aside) with that one word.  But, while in many cases it is a useful enough word, Talent somehow doesn’t do the subject justice.

Listen to golfers (down to earth, secular, good and honest people) as they reflect on the moments of Transcendence they experienced at their personal golfing meccas (Dornoch, say, or Ballyneal, or New South Wales at twilight); you can hear their voices crack with what might be Joy, you can see in their eyes the gentle distant look of what might be Blessedness.
Talent simply doesn’t seem adequate to describe the nature and quality of a creative process and product that could engender such a response.  At those times, it rings closer to the Truth to say that the architects who first saw Dornoch or New South Wales were touched — at least for that one brief moment in time — not so much by Talent as by Grace.

It may be, in short, that the Art of Seeing is actually, at its heart and at the end of all things, an Act of Grace.